I am naturally drawn to the view of the leader as a symphony conductor. I love that the conductor can bring together the remarkable talents and skills of the musicians and generate something beautiful, powerful, and moving. The leader’s output isn’t as melodious; however, the outcome of having the right people in the right chairs doing the right things is fabulous in different ways.
Yet, there is one big difference between the conductor and the leader: the leader doesn’t have the complete musical score composed by a long-dead genius to guide her and her team’s precise movements. The leader and her team are creating and playing the score at the same time.
And it’s not easy.
Sometimes the output is painful noise—cacophony.
Anyone who has ever stepped into a messy team situation knows this sour sound. People are bickering, quality is spotty or non-existent, coordination is a fantasy, innovation is absent, and the environment is toxic.
For this leader as conductor and composer, the next notes aren’t known. There’s no long score from a long-dead genius describing every nuance for the following steps. It’s at this point where the leader becomes composer and conductor.
The Leader as Composer and Conductor:
After time and observation, the leader begins to compose—striving to transform the environment and change the tone of the output. The goal is high-performance.
A true maestro gets the fear out first.
Next, come the values. They frame the score and offer the leader a foundation to write.
Now, it’s time to get the right players in the right chairs. This takes time, observation, coaching, and hard decisions. And even when the players are present, it’s still not enough.
Success and the beautiful music of high-performance demand clarity on multiple levels: direction, future, strategy, and coordination.
The players need to know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Even if they are creating the next notes together, everyone has to sense where this is heading.
And then there’s the timing of execution. Bloody timing: doing the right thing at the right time in the right cadence. Decisions control timing. Ensuring the right decisions are made at the right time is the leader’s responsibility. Imbuing the role players with the confidence and knowledge to make their own choices and not distort the pace is part of the process as well.
Get this right, and the music is beautiful. You only have to live high-performance once to know this is what you must pursue always.
And while I can only (and barely) imagine the complexity of composing and then conducting a symphony—it must be sweat and blood and anguish translated to score—the leader’s job if pursued properly has plenty of pain as well.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
For those of you striving to compose in this role of leader as a conductor, remember that sometimes you have to back-off and listen and observe to hear and see whether you’ve got it right. Let the musicians play, support, and then keep fine-tuning.